In a city where ice sports reign supreme, learning to skate might as well be required. But for kids with special needs like Peter Lafferty’s 8-year-old son, Roman, skating seemed more like a pipedream than a possibility. Until last spring, when Alex Christianson launched the Dream Skating program, there were very few options for youngsters like Roman to strap on the skates.
Christianson set out with the goal of creating a positive, fun environment for kids to learn a new skill. Having run other programs for children with special needs, she knows what it takes to create a successful learning environment. Dream Skating launched last spring with six 50-minute sessions over the course of eight weeks. Skating is great for the kids—it helps promote balance, coordination and different muscle movements. “It is fun to see the kids, even in six weeks, go from being unsure on skates to being able to stand on their own,” Christianson says. “It has been cool to just see the physical progression.”
The program is open to children of all ages and has had participants as young as 5 years old. Each child is paired with a volunteer “buddy,” or mentor. Buddies are high school students from the Edina Hockey Association and Braemar Figure Skating Club.
“I really wanted it to be a social and supportive piece instead of just learning to skate,” Christianson says. Creating a social environment is what inspired her to reach out to high school volunteers. All of the buddies have plenty of skating experience, but most of them had never worked with kids with disabilities before. Even so, the program has flourished with their help.
The volunteers thrive on forming relationships with the skaters. Emma Clark, a figure skater and ninth-grader at South View Middle School, has been volunteering with the program since it began. “The best thing is the relationships you build with kids,” she says. “I see them grow so much from beginning to end. They get to see a familiar face out in the community that they normally wouldn’t become friends with.”
For parents like Lafferty, the volunteers are what make the program so special. “It’s hard as a parent,” he says. “You can give your kids instruction, but having these teenage volunteers who are just there because they want to be gives the kids someone to look up to.”
More than anything, the relationships give the kids confidence. Many of the student skaters come to the program hesitant and quiet, but by the end of the eight weeks, they’re jumping up and down with excitement to be out on the ice with their buddies.
For most skaters, both the physical skills and newfound confidence simply give them the feeling of being a kid. They can go down to the pond and skate with friends or attend a birthday party they might not have in the past. Some, like Roman, are even taking their skills to the next level. He joined the Edina Special Hockey team last October—something Lafferty says he never would have done if it hadn’t been for Dream Skating. All he needed was the opportunity.
Dream Skating Spring Session:
Sunday mornings starting April 12.